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Rick O'Shea undeterred by 'harsh' criticism re his suitability for new poetry gig and says response has been 'overwhelmingly positive'

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Rick O'Shea with his 'game face' on.

Rick O'Shea with his 'game face' on.

Rick O'Shea with his 'game face' on.

2FM DJ Rick O'Shea's appointment as presenter of the new Poetry Programme on RTE Radio 1 has surprised anyone who knows him solely for his light entertainment daytime radio slot on 2FM.

However, O'Shea (41) has had a lifelong interest in the arts and feels he's the right man for the job.

"I think that anybody who has only ever heard my daytime radio show might see it as a bit of a shock," he says, adding, "But anybody who has read my blog, or book reviews, or sees me on Twitter talking about theatre or other events that interest me, or heard me at any stage last year on Arena on Radio 1 - on a couple of live panels connected with poetry - or reviewing books for a while, or heard all of that other stuff it’s not shocking."

There has been some criticism of his appointment, questioning his suitability for the role given his own admission he's not a poetry 'expert', but this has not daunted O'Shea, who dubbed it '#poetrygate' on Twitter and says it is the only negative feedback he has received.

"There is one [news] outlet in particular and there’s no point in going on about it again but they seemed a little harsh," he says.

"But to top that off I came across so much positive goodwill and nice things that people have said over the past 24-36 hours, both online and people sending emails, and people stopping me in the corridor, that as far as I can see, and I do notice these things, is the response has been overwhelmingly positive. 

"There will always be one or two dissenting voices and this is before anybody has even had a chance to listen to the programme.  It doesn’t start until tomorrow night."

The new programme will run every Saturday at 7.30pm, after The Book Show, and will see Rick "interviewing contemporary poets from Ireland and all over the world, visiting poetry and spoken word events around the country and celebrating anniversaries in the greater poetry world".

The first show will see him talking to National Poet of Scotland Liz Lochhead, checking out what performance poetry night Brownbread Mixtape sounds like, and the founder of the Lingo Festival Stephen James Smith will give a performance of a Yeats poem.

"I’m fairly sure one of the reasons I’ve been approached to do this is because I’ll hopefully bring a much wider audience than would normally listen to something at 7.30pm on Radio 1," he says.  "If that works, fantastic."

As for the audience, he hopes to make the show entertaining and accessible to people who might not have had a relationship with poetry since school.

"I think it’s strange that the vast majority of Irish people, their relationship with poetry begins and ends with them having stuff drilled into them when they’re a kid.  If they’re lucky enough it extends beyond that but for most people, probably not," he says.

"Normal guys and girls on the street, the only time they might ever come across a poem that moves them may be at a funeral or when one is read at their wedding. 

"It’s a terrible shame because when you think about it poetry is one of the most accessible art forms you can come across.  You don’t have to invest two hours like you do with a film, or a week with a nove, or four hours for an opera.  You can invest just a minute in reading a poem, be it something that moves you or entertains you or makes you happy."  

O'Shea has been presenting popular light entertainment shows on 2FM for 14 years, with his most recent daytime show running for five years.  It's the longest surviving show on the daytime schedule but that's not something about which he feels complacent.

"I’m a constant worrier.  I’m one of those people who lives in a perpetual presumption that my next pay cheque will be my last one and I’ll have to move on to something else," he admits.

"I think it’s a healthy attitude to have in our business.  If you become complacent and think you can afford to sit back and have a job for life that’s a terrible attitude for anybody in radio to have I think given the nature of all the changes in the last 8 or 9 years."

The Poetry Programme kicks off on Radio One Saturday night at 7.30pm.

Online Editors